Sustainability is at the forefront of consumer purchase decisions and nearly every large corporation’s future growth plans. It’s driving spending among millennials, sweeping the new tech landscape, and increasing job satisfaction. Sustainability, Responsibility and Impact (SRI) Investment reached $30.7 trillion globally in early 2018, up 34% from 2016. And 90% of CEOs now say sustainability is key to success.
While dramatic, none of this is particularly surprising. What is surprising, however, is where sustainability innovation and leadership are coming from.
Would you believe Cincinnati? Having spent the last six months evaluating regional "right to win" strengths in my capacity as CEO of Cintrifuse, the city’s startup catalyst focused on making Greater Cincinnati the number one tech startup hub in the Midwest, I’m convinced we have the potential to become a national leader in sustainability.
Just consider, Cincinnati was named the nation’s Most Sustainable City by Site Magazine, ahead of cities like Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles. We earned largely because of the 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan that’s built around 80 strategies to nearly eliminate the city’s carbon emissions over three decades.
Just last month we learned that Cincinnati will serve as the next location for a national initiative, Beyond34, that’s looking to dramatically boost recycling rates.
Cincinnati is also among the top 20 American cities with LEED-certified buildings – and sixth in the number of industry sectors aligned with CleanTech. Our central business district is becoming a hub of innovation as one of North America’s 2030 Districts, a network of healthy, high-performing sustainable buildings.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden was named the Greenest Zoo in America almost a decade ago and continues to lead on this front. Our universities – including the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Miami, and NKU – are powerful engines of innovation and are also growing new generations of sustainability leaders.
Highly innovative start-ups are drawing investment, talent and attention. 80 Acres Farms, the first fully-automated indoor farm in the U.S., just received a major infusion of private equity investment. Privately held companies such as Michelman are well ahead of the curve in areas like sustainable, post-plastics packaging. Startup-friendly CVG is also pushing barriers, and as the soon-to-be top ecommerce artery in the nation, has every incentive to stay ahead.
And, of course, our global companies such as Kroger and P&G are setting industry standards worldwide. Kroger has set a moonshot goal to eliminate hunger and food waste in every Kroger community worldwide – by 2025! P&G met or exceeded its demanding 2020 sustainability goals ahead of schedule – and then raised the bar with even more-stretching 2030 goals.
Few areas will draw as much venture capital, private equity and other forms of investment as sustainability will in the years ahead. Given the momentum we’ve already established, we should be going after our fair share of the pie.
Three priorities can accelerate our success. One, we need a more-coordinated strategy. Two, we need to clarify and prioritize innovation spaces where we have the greatest right to lead and win. Three, we must tell the world what we are doing – and invite the best thinkers, entrepreneurs, investors, and activists to come join us.
This is an area where Cintrifuse is committed to play a catalytic role. We’re working with City Hall on several fronts, including supporting Cincy Insights, the city’s visual open data portal that makes city data easy to access and use, and which could positively influence green entrepreneurship. On June 26, we’ll also be hosting at Union Hall a community hackathon to drive big, bold thinking about sustainability.
Ours is a story I want to shout from every LEED-certified rooftop I can find because our historic Queen City is a pioneering Green City and our region is leading the way to a safer, cleaner, more-sustainable world.
Pete Blackshaw is CEO of Cintrifuse, a Cincinnati startup catalyst fueled by a network of 700 venture capitalists, some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies, and thousands of startups.
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